by Michael Sansolo
It’s said that any sporting event is made better if no one notices the umpire or referee. In other words, if they do their job well, they are largely invisible.
The same could be said about the supply chain. It’s an easy bet that until two years ago, most consumers gave no thought to how products arrived at their store shelves. All they knew was what they saw: shelves full of items waiting to be bought all the time.
But since March 2020 a host of problems exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic have made everyone aware of the long and complicated path products - be it toilet tissue or semi-conductor chips for appliances - take to reach their final destination.
All of us have learned about the key chokepoints in those journeys, none more so than the need for truck drivers to move goods around. There are constant news reports about all the containers laden with products waiting in key US ports and all the consumers laden with shopping lists who can’t find the products they want. In other words, the supply and demand are both there, but there simply are not enough truck drivers to move those products from point A to point B.
A recent article in the New York Times examined this issue, but to be honest, I wrote about it here on MNB five years ago.
Thanks to my work, at that time with the Food Shippers of America, I became aware that the population of US truck drivers was clearly less than the industry needed and, thanks to the aging population of those drivers, the situation was about to get much, much worse. This clearly come to pass.
Sadly there is no easy solution to this problem. Truck driving is a taxing profession and there is little reason to expect that suddenly the population of available drivers is about to explode minus a major technological advance in self-driving 18-wheelers. However, there are steps companies can take to understand the challenges these drivers face and how easily a retail or wholesale partner can become a preferred point of delivery.
Again, through my work with the food shippers, I heard drivers talk about the frustrations that they face in doing their jobs and in this case there are actions any company that works with drivers can take.
It starts with drivers facing hours-long lines at distribution centers when they arrive to drop off a load. Remember, miles equal money for drivers. So time spent in line waiting to off-load is both a bother and a financial burden. Drivers contrasted that situation with companies that schedule drop off time slots so that they have a shorter window for this process.
But even simpler, the drivers said, is the treatment they received at those drop off points. At the worst, they found no place to use the bathroom or found dirty facilities. At the best are companies that offer plentiful, clean bathrooms and possibly showers. Plus drivers might even find a place to eat and use Wi-Fi. It’s not hard to guess which companies drivers prefer to serve and which they avoid and, to no ones surprise, they share this information among their colleagues.
So sure, no company out there can miraculously increase the number of drivers available, but certainly every company could take steps to ensure these very valuable drivers of the supply chain are treated with respect and more. It won’t solve the overall problem, but it might make you the preferred end point in a supply chain currently in crisis.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.
And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.